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Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce (Goong ma kham)

Chef's Corner logoThe compressed fruit pulp of the tamarindus indica tree is available in any produce store. Ask for “tamarindo,” pronounced just like the beach town in Guanacaste, or look for the brown packet as shown in photo.

It is a popular ingredient in south Asian recipes; it has an incomparable blend of sweet and sour best described as a full flavored and complex lime juice. It is packed with anti-oxidants, digestive aids, and vitamins that cover the entire alphabet.

Locally, ticos turn these tasty fruits into refreshing drinks—fresco de tamarindo.

This sauce is excellent with shrimp, fish, or chicken. Crispy garlic and cilantro leaves add the finishing touch that is so popular in Thai dishes.

Tamarind pasteIngredients (4 servings)

  • 1 kilo of medium to large shrimp, peeled and veined (can be replaced by boneless fish or chicken)
  • 1 cup of cornstarch for dredging
  • 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt, pepper, to taste
  • 200 grams or ½ packet of solid tamarind pulp
  • ½ liter of hot water
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • ½ medium size white onion
  • 2 green onions finely sliced
  • ½ small carrot cut into thin julienne strips
  • ½ small red bell pepper (chile dulce rojo) cut into thin julienne strips
  • 1 red hot pepper (optional)
  • ¼ cup of brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of fish sauce (nam pla)
  • Small amount of fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Shrimp in Tamarind SauceDirections

  1. Mix tamarind pulp with hot water so that it becomes loose. Strain with fine sieve. You will need 1/3 cup of the thick liquid, free of seeds and fibers.
  2. Take 5 garlic cloves and thinly slice to deep fry.
  3. Finely chop the other 5 cloves or use a garlic press.
  4. Pour ½ cup of vegetable oil in a small frying pan and fry the garlic slices until they begin to brown. Quickly strain the oil into a larger frying pan with a metal strainer. Be careful because garlic can burn easily.
  5. Dry the shrimp, fish, or chicken before dredging into the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
  6. Add the rest of the cooking oil to the strained garlic oil to pan fry the shrimp. Fry until golden and set aside on paper towels. Keep warm while making sauce.
  7. In a saucepan, heat a small amount of cooking oil, add the garlic, the carrots, the onions, the green onions, the bell peppers until the vegetables are fragrant. Add tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce.
  8. Pour sauce preparation over the crispy shrimp and garnish with crispy garlic and cilantro leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Thai-Style Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Mint, Basil, and Cilantro

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This is a refreshing salad with contrasting colors and textures. Try adding cooked meats, seafood, or roasted veggies for a perfect lunch bowl, or serve it alongside a composed meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium cucumbers, partially peeled (little spaces between the peeled strips), sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into little half moons
  • 2 medium tomatoes cut into large chunks
  • 1 thinly sliced red hot pepper (optional)
  • A few thin slices of red onion, not too much
  • 1 cup of roughly chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil, and mint
  • 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce (soy sauce for vegan)
  • 1 clove of finely minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped peanuts
Thai-Style Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Mint, Basil, and Cilantro

Phot0: Sarah Yunker

Directions

  1. Make dressing by mixing lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and garlic.
  2. Place cucumber and tomato slices in a bowl, toss with dressing and herbs. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and serve.

Korean Beef Bulgogi and Homemade Kimchi

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If you are able to find a perfect grill, preferably charcoal, don’t hesitate to try these classic Korean culinary delights. The bulgogi meat is sliced thinly and only needs a few hours to marinate. The kimchi is a fun science project to share with kids (and adults) and awaken our foodie curiosity.

Although soy sauce, sesame oil, gojujang paste, ginger and garlic, might not have been readily available in those times, I believe that Gengis Khan and his raiding mongols ate something similar… even the fermented pickled cabbage “kimchi” was essential to their diet. 

Homemade Kimchi

Jar of KimchiIngredients

  • 1 whole Chinese cabbage (mostaza China) washed, and sliced into 1 inch wedges
  • ½ cup sea salt (sal marina)
  • 4 to 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp of minced ginger
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 3 tbsp of water
  • 2 tbsp of Gojujang paste OR 1 tbsp of red chili flakes mixed with 1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
  • 1 peeled small carrot and cut into matchsticks 
  • matchsticks of daikon radish (optional)
  • 3 whole scallions in ½ inch slices

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Sri Lankan Fish Curry

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Hand pounded spices, tamarind juice, coconut milk are the magic ingredients that permeate through this flavorful dish.
Surprisingly quick and easy to prepare, begin with various cuts of fish and elevate them into this sumptuous curry.

Spice Mix Ingredients

  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 cardamon pods, seeded
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon

Place spices in a small frying pan and dry roast until fragrant. Place in mortar and pestle and pound into a coarse powder.

Sri Lankan Fish CurryCurry Ingredients

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 pinch of chili powder
  • 1 hot chili (optional)
  • 800 grams of skinless firm fish filet e.g. mahi mahi, tuna, corvina, gouper…
  • A thumb-size piece of ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 handful of curry leaves (optional)
  • 2 small or one large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil or other
  • 1 medium size tomato, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of tamarind paste
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish

Instructions

  1. Mix lime juice with turmeric and chili powder and marinate the fish pieces, chill and set aside.
  2. Process the ginger, garlic and chilies and fry in coconut oil with the spice mix.
  3. Add onions, curry leaves, tomatoes.
  4. When tomatoes are broken down, add the coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Finally drain the fish pieces and gently poach in the coconut milk until cooked through and flaky.
  6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Bahn Mi

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First we must thank John Montagu (1718-1792), the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who had the genius idea of encasing cold meats in between two slices of bread so that he didn’t break from the gambling tables for a snack.

Of all the inventive meat-and-bread creations since this historical milestone, the Vietnamese Banh Mi is one of my favorites. Fresh and crusty bread, and the sweet pickled carrots and cucumber (daikon too if available) and cilantro are key, the rest can vary according to taste.

This recipe is the authentic street vendor version.

For the bread

About 9 inches of fresh French baguette cut lengthwise leaving both halves still attached. 

For the pickle

  • ¾ cup of shredded carrots
  • ¾ cup of thinly sliced, peeled and seeded cucumber
  • ½ cup shredded daikon, if available
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt

Mix all of the above and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, drain before using.
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Sesame Noodles with Chicken

Chef's Corner logoThis is a crowd-pleaser, and a creative way to serve leftover chicken (or other proteins). The rice vermicelli, shredded vegetables, sweet, sour, and spicy vinaigrette will make you want to finish the bowl.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup good quality soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil for sautéing
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • A small amount of shredded ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 1 package of rice vermicelli—the whole package
  • 1/2 cabbage
  • 1 big Costa Rican carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks of scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 thinly sliced hot chili pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 kg of cooked chicken or other meat, sliced thinly.

Chicken noodlesDirections

  1. Boil water in a large pot for the vermicelli. When pour contents of the package into boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes until soft, strain, set aside.
  2. In a large pan or wok, preferably non-stick, fry the garlic, ginger, and scallions until fragrant in the vegetable oil.
  3. Add the shredded cabbage, and the celery and carrot.
  4. Stir fry the vegetables and then add meats, noodles, brown sugar, and liquid ingredients. Mix all very well and serve warm or cold.
  5. You can garnish with chopped nuts, cilantro, sesame seeds. Yum!

Vegetarian Tom Ka Gai

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Ingredients

  • 6 lbs of raw, seeded, and unpeeled pumpkin
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass (just the bottom white part)
  • 2 cubic inch knob of ginger
  • 2 cubic inch knob of galangal if available
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves if available
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ½ C Nam Pla or Thai fish sauce (vegan version might be available or use light soy sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Finely chopped scallion and cilantro
  • Siracha or homemade scallion oil (blend the green parts of scallions with good quality, flavorless oil)

Vegetarian Tom Ka Gai

Directions

  1. Put the first 6 ingredients in a pot with approximately 2 quarts of water, and boil for one hour until the pumpkin is very soft.
  2. Drain the solids while saving the stock.
  3. Remove and discard lemongrass, ginger galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.
  4. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh from the outer peel and place in blender. Add the cooked garlic cloves and puree with the cooking liquid. The mixture should be smooth.
  5. Now add the lime juice, Nam Pla, brown sugar, and coconut milk. Amounts can be adjusted to taste.
  6. Garnish with a small amount of finely sliced scallion, chopped cilantro, Siracha drops or scallion oil.

Stuffed tofu bites

Chef's Corner logoI am often asked: what is tofu, and how is it used?

Tofu is a bland looking and bland tasting hunk of soy cheese that nobody should consider a pantry staple unless you’re vegetarian, vegan, or lactose intolerant. But let’s reconsider for a moment. Tofu is actually a magical ingredient that is a shape shifter, a rich protein, a product of coagulated soy milk that can embrace any sauce or flavor, sweet or savory, a vehicle for endless creations… Here is a surprisingly simple appetizer that makes everyone smile before they fall in love with tofu.

Fried TofuIngredients

  • 1 package of firm tofu
  • 1 handful of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup of shredded carrots
  • Coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup of roughly chopped peanuts
  • Soy sauce mixed with a little brown sugar for serving

Stuffed TofuDirections

  1. Place tofu on a few paper towels to air-dry for a couple hours so that the moisture doesn’t make the oil splatter.
  2. Quickly blanche the bean sprouts in boiling water in order to keep their white color. Drain and combine with carrots, cilantro, and peanuts.
  3. Cut tofu carefully into 6 rectangles and deep fry on all sides.
  4. Cut the cubes in half and scoop out a small amount of the soft middle.
  5. Stuff the halves with the bean sprout mixture.
  6. Serve with slightly sweetened soy sauce and you will have a fun appetizer for your vegetarian and vegan friends.

Leftover Turkey Gumbo

Chef's Corner logoUsing leftovers from holiday meals is just another way to prolong the feast. Here, the turkey carcass and meat scraps can become a wonderful hearty soup to serve with rice and plenty of hot sauce.

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts of leftover turkey carcass stock
  • 1 ½ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 1 lb (or ½ kg) of sautéed andouille sausage or any sausage
  • We like shrimp too
  • Turkey meat
  • Steamed rice
  • Hot sauce
  • Parsley to garnish

Leftover Turkey GumboDirections

  1. All gumbos start with a roux which means browning flour in oil. I use a low flame and plenty of patience for stirring the pot.
  2. When the roux becomes dark chocolate brown, you must add that Cajun “holy trinity” which is chopped onions, green peppers, and celery.
  3. Then you follow with the stock, and finally the meats. The meat choices are really up to you and what you have on hand.

The only rules to making gumbo are: don’t burn the roux and laissez les bon temps rouler. Or “let the good times roll!”


Orange and Sesame Chicken with Thai-style Chayote Slaw

This is an American-Chinese favorite, Asian fusion at it´s finest.

For 8 to 10 servings

Orange and Sesame Chicken with Thai-style Chayote SlawThai-style Chayote Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 Chayote
  • 1 Carrot
  • 2 tbs Thai fish sauce
  • 2 tbs white sugar
  • 2tbs lime juice
  • Peanuts
  • Cilantro

Directions

  • Slice chayote & carrot into small matchsticks.
  • Make a dressing with Thai fish sauce, white sugar, and lime juice.
  • Pour dressing over matchsticks and garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro.

Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of chicken thigh fillets, cut into nice chunks
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 3 tbs cornstarch (maizena)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/3 cup of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water

Directions

  1. Mix together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, and water until a smooth paste is formed.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and let sit for about 30 minutes.
  3. In a shallow pan, heat 2 cups of cooking oil and fry the chicken pieces in batches until golden. Keep warm.

Orange and Sesame Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 6 to 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 100 grams of orange marmelade, or a small jar
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup of ketchup
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, fry the garlic and ginger in a little bit of cooking oil until fragrant.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
  3. Mix 3 tablespoons of cornstarch into 1 cup of water and mix well before adding it to thicken sauce.
  4. Pour over warm chicken nuggets and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
  5. Serve with steamed rice and Thai-style chayote slaw.

Spicy Korean Chicken Wings

Korean gochujang paste is my new obsession: think of a blend of sweet and spicy miso paste. I’ve seen it once at the mini price store (some years ago sighhh), but it does exist in San Jose. If you find it, grab it and share it with your loved ones. A small amount goes a long way.

Spicy Korean chicken wingsIngredients for the fried chicken wings

  • 1 kilo of whole chicken wings
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 pinch of black or white pepper
  • 1/2 cup of cornstarch (maizena)
  • oil for deep frying

Instructions

  1. Split the wings into drumettes and wingettes, discard the tips (good for making stock).
  2. Pat dry with paper towels and let sit for a few hours in salt and pepper.
  3. Pat dry again before tossing in cornstarch to coat evenly.
  4. Heat oil until it spatters and cook wings in several batches until well done.
  5. This should take at least 1/2 hour depending on size of wings. Check for doneness.

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Macadamia Nut Pie

Chef's Corner logoThis is a remake of the classic pecan pie with macadamias as the star ingredient. Serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and your guests will rave about about this awesome tropical dessert!

For an 8 inch pie dish.

CRUST

crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • 3 tbs manteca (shortening) chilled
  • 4 tablespoons of butter (preferably unsalted) chilled
  • 4 to 6 tbs water
  • 1/2 shot vodka

Directions

  1. Work the dough by hand combining fats and flour into a crumbly mix.
  2. Moisten with water and vodka until you can form a ball.
  3. Let rest for 2 hours.
  4. Roll out and line pie dish. 

filling

FILLING

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1 cup of light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Instructions

    baked

  1. Preheat oven to 3500F (1980C).
  2. Cream eggs, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla together until well blended.
  3. Add nuts and pour into prepared pie shell.
  4. Bake for about one hour or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
  5. Let rest for at least ½ hour before serving.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Chef's Corner logoWhen bananas become old and mushy, they are perfect for this recipe. You will love how quickly and easily these loaves are prepared.
Makes two 8 X 4 inch pans.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons of soft butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Directions

  1. Prepare the pans and preheat the oven to 350 F (197 C)
  2. Cream the butter and the sugar, add eggs, continue to blend while adding vanilla and bananas. Mix together dry ingredients before incorporating them into the batter. Lastly add the chocolate chips and pour into prepared pans.
  3. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf.

Contact Chef Desiree at costadezz@gmail.com.


Shrimp and Grits

Chef's Corner logoYears ago, I learned that Italian polenta is a finer version of those exact little “grits” so beloved in the US south. Here to satisfy those soul food cravings, this is comfort food at its best. The topping is extremely versatile so you can use your favorite proteins, sauces, or leftovers…
Serves 6

Shrimp and grits For the shrimp and gravy

  • 1/2 kilo (one pound) medium to large shrimp, peeled, and deveined. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 cup of tomato puree
  • A couple drops of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh thyme and parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  1. Using your favorite frying pan, fry garlic in olive oil, add dried tomatoes, herbs, and finally tomato puree.
  2. Season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and brown sugar.
  3. Allow to thicken before adding shrimp.
  4. Stir-fry for no more than 5 minutes and remove the entire pan to keep warm.

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Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Chef's Corner logoAfter we thank our Jamaican friends for Bob Marley, we should also thank them for this Jerk seasoning recipe which is the absolute king of marinades.

For 10 assorted bone-in chicken pieces.

Marinade Ingredients

  • 1 entire bunch of scallions(cebollino in Costa Rican) chopped to facilitate processing.
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 shot of dark rum
  • 1/3 cup of lime juice
  • 10 crushed or 1 tablespoon of allspice berries (called Jamaica in Costa Rica)*
  • 1 inch cube of ginger
  • 2 whole habanero peppers or to taste. Fiery habaneros or scotch bonnet peppers are recommended, but they can be lessened or eliminated if your guests have low heat tolerance.
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup oil (I like to use coconut, but any other is fine)
  • Salt and black pepper

*I like to dry fry the allspice berries for a few minutes to release the fragrance and then pound them with a mortar and pestle. The powdered kind is significantly weaker.

Jamaican Jerk ChickenDirections

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a food processor.
  2. Marinade the chicken pieces in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight.
  3. Set the grill to a low temperature to avoid burning.
  4. Grill the chicken pieces, turning frequently, for 45 minutes and then finish in a 350 oven for 30 minutes ensuring that all pieces are done. Juices should run clear when a toothpick is inserted into the thickest part.

This marinade works well with pork chops too. Great served with rice and beans.

Contact Chef Desiree at costadezz@gmail.com.